An Unsafe Gospel, a Good Godj0k8x16s35h14ioolwpsffwdz5l1i3dkAn Unsafe Gospel, a Good God">An Unsafe Gospel, a Good Godg7p4z6ylbwk0z49wk83hksdda514ahbcAn Unsafe Gospel, a Good God

(English → Español) View original
Translators:

This is a sermon I wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u privileged to share with Sunset Bible Church. I’m going to try to resurrect things here, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o one thing will be to post sermons. This may (or may not) be more active down in Mexico where every sermon in our church is new :). I wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u privileged to finish the sermon series on Acts that the pastors were preaching, so the sermon covers Acts 21-28. A big chunk, to be sure, but we can learn from Scripture in large portions as well as in small. v8ljkeost9xog7viuan4zx0z3ocmgwly(It doesn’t lose the property of inspiration when you read lots of it!) hwx7509kwdtxu5523zotj8a19tawgef1

Spoiler alert: If you’re from FBUP, don’t read this until AFTER July 5th!k7fnmehjybzjzdkveb8awbps1dz3wkt1

We live in a world that feels increasingly out of control. Some example you might pick  are Islam andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o Islamic terrorism, especially with Isis wreaking havoc in the Middle East. Or, there’s economic uncertainty around the world, in Europe, Japan, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o (always) in the US. Russia is playing at war in eastern Europe, China is looming in the west.  For those of us who are conservative Christians we see the rise of gay marriage andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o trans-gender issues. qiuyuhk41df1dx20b02wk8jfdq1kr8kcTo make it all worse … the specter of a presidential election is on the horizon.d0trbgtpx2ham4sbd7748f1w4o61ige2

And I don’t even know what your life is like right now. You may be sitting here with a family crisis, or work stress or something that I can never know. Life is something we do not control. Today as we finish the book of Acts, we will see the same thing. A man caught in a world out of his control. Yet…he remains on mission. Paul does not stop proclaiming the Gospel. So I invite you to let go of the illusion of control in your life for a few minutes andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o concentrate your attention on Acts 21-28.uy3bytz8f77wgmafk65cplh9xxeb6fj8

As you turn to Acts 21, I want to set the idea for this section of Scripture.1sx81pkg2086f9z7w3dtnuim87vdy7t5

What’s going on? Three ideas09ybnuh0brz3x7isl7l0fkm3smteek7q

The purpose of Luke-Acts:2a797rdqnpb1tkex1itdo266k596yfr7

  • “…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”Luke 1:3-4 (All Scripture here is from the ESV)p3w3rnsdt9y5ff2blrv106mt5tlcqkdr
  • “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o teach, until the day when he wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u taken up, after he had given commandoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3os through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o speaking about the kingdom of God…. je2fu932s6iiusne19dxa5fuge95108kBut you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o in all Judea andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o Samaria, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:1-3; 8blghdce08lwngnplr5ev8qdf0bfaclo4

Luke is writing so his readers are bothu6zzn4q7sp4vbsgxhp71ac96mf4wcd0t informedqc2c1xz6cva9gifz7hrlx088lto828h2 andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o confirmedj76q3x1l9acor6r82u9tv54m450g7osj in their faith. Christianity more than any other religion is based on historical facts andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o those point us to faith in a Savior who lived, wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u crucified andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o rose. Information is important to our faith. Yet confirmation, the grounding of lives lived out in that information is equally important. So Acts is that information AND confirmation of our mission as believers in Jesus Christ.

Roman Apology (defense): Explanation of the faith for curious Romans.x6135ngjg26q6e4vquqe5h8irmdphias

Luke consistently portrays Roman authority andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the agents of the Empire in a positive light. He’s not a suckup, the authorities in his portrayal, have foibles, but he notes their fairness, noble qualities, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o, especially, a lack of official condemnation of Christians or Christianity.  On the other handoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o, he portrays Paul, his main character, as a law-abiding Roman citizen who respects andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o even helps the Roman authorities in their duties.  I mention this because it is especially important as we look at the end of Acts, which is almost entirely composed of Paul’s interactions with the Roman Imperial authorities.

The Gospel Advances.3hjyh4ojygtlam0wmu2f5rh48ynzqz0v

And in light of these interactions, the overriding idea of his book is that the Gospel witness advances andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o goes forth even in the most daunting of circumstances. What to us looks like a semi-tragedy, Paul’s arrest, imprisonment, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o deportation to Rome, in no way stops the advancement of Paul’s Gospel witness. Maybe you’ve read all the warnings Paul received going to Jerusalem, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o like every great story, no matter how many times you read it or watch it, when you get to that point you want to say, “No! Don’t go there! Don’t do that!” But Paul does, every time, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o every time…he goes to jail.

But in that is our key point: God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. In fact, I would perhaps argue that the whole of Acts 21-28 is simply Luke’s demonstration of Jesus statement in Matthew’s Gospel: “I will build my church andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)God is building His church andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o there is no power on earth or in the heavenlies that can stop Him. And THAT is what we need to go home with today. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it.

As missionaries in Mexico, we continually are asked about security andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o safety, which is fine (I’m tempted to take a lot more credit than I should for being in a dangerous place: “Yeah, it’s really dangerous there!”). The reality is that your perception of the dangers in Mexico doesn’t necessarily match reality. But I think back 12.5 years, when our oldest son wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u only 1 week old, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o at a Christmas party a co-worker’s wife insisted that we could never take him there because it wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u too dangerous. In that conversation, I had to learn to communicate the idea that the best, the safest place for us to be is where God sends us.

There are no exceptions to that. We as Americans live in a society that is built upon the illusion of control. We think with just a few more regulations or precautions or laws or police or health care workers or money we can prevent tragedies or even hardships in life. That’s a lie. We have so little control over our lives. Let me be very personal. YOU have so very little control over your life. Acts 21-28 standoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3os as a challenge to us control-freak American Christians: more important than control andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o safety in my life is the fact that God is spreading forth His Gospel no matter what the circumstances, what the challenges, what the laws andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o obstacles. He is in control andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o His Gospel will go forth. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. “I will build my church andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” How does Acts 21-28 show this?

6 Cycles of Danger-Protection-Testimonyff6tetoqxq5684ofohzs8a83cpzz2abd

As I read through Acts 21-28, I see 6 cycles of danger-protection-testimony, as Paul runs into a very real threat (Danger), sometimes to his very life, but then is protected (Protection), usually by agents of the Roman Empire, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o then uses the circumstances to give testimony to the Gospel (Testimony).  Time will certainly not allow us to examine any of these in detail, but let me just tell you what they are, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o then make a couple observations…

Cycle 1. Paul in the Temple: Acts 21:16-22:22qv1ipw0u1f38hb18ful8pbgkqyrfgvsz

Danger: Riot at the Temple (Acts 21:27-31a)vmfehwuwi30ittssii81yiccu7jnhm2q

The Jews think Paul brought a Gentile into the “Jew Only” section of the Temple, a capital offence.  “It’s just a simple misunderstandoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3oing” See what happens when you make assumptions!

Protection: Paul protected—arrest at Temple (Acts 21:31b-40)1ig759zoj51kmmu4zuw53lmq8jxs7a7u

The irony3msvy1rg5neqonfbx5nuq3vhhkvuzi2p is that the Romans a) arrest the innocent guy andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o b) in so doing save his life.

Testimony: Paul’s Temple defense (Acts 22:1-22)7oxy4w2ifgmoo0mlkaib1jn2cwclchfe

In 5 out of these 6 cycles, Paul shares the Gospel, usually in the form of his own story. Every time there’s a breaking point at which Paul’s audience objects to what Paul says andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o breaks off his talk. Here, the Breaking Pointl9q93earm7y1m9fn4ruayeiikmkmkql2 is Paul’s commission to the Gentile. His hearers seem to accept his testimony, a light andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o voice from heaven. They seem even to deal with Jesus as Lord. But the idea of Paul being sent to the Gentiles? That’s going too far now!

Cycle 2. Paul before the Sanhedrin: Acts 22:22-23:10p93r658hp05fodsxhap002w4u69m4zvg

Danger: Riot at the Temple (Acts 22:22-23)mfcdvarrx9lzrrg5q1lrz30m0muf9noo

The people riot all over again…but…491vs4nl04wht4zjea0tockprb67ykw3

Protection: Paul protected—interrogated in the barracks (Acts 22:24-29)acfyt6oddpkgssm6y8ri0d0e4dv67jfs

Here’s irony3msvy1rg5neqonfbx5nuq3vhhkvuzi2p again: Paul’s Roman citizenship saves him from the Romans…Roman due process wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u pretty solid, if you were a Roman citizen.u2utvxgwal8mw506tgc4atxys0giy0cf

Testimony: Paul’s Sanhedrin defense (Acts 22:30-23:10)b4d3s8jzb1xcnxqy0yl2daufnojtcblg

Ananias wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u a genuine bad guy andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o this resurrection debate among first-century Jews is well-documented. Paul spoke the truth but also exploited known divisions in the Sanhedrin.

Breaking point1r4cwguw8xfiwf1lohep7rkslo623k1dpjvwd75j2q5mxmfpr07cqalbeed9j9hz9haevrxg8mtqo9sqy061dieqdvkk5p32kmb80rtst4mvb32llxaf4aohjber4s52: the concept of the resurrection is too much for the Sadducees andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the Pharisees to agree on.

** Paul protected: God’s promise (Acts 23:11) **pgbu8chfs2sw8058ecxtuo49mx50v177

“Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  This little interlude gives the game plan for the rest of the book.iie930tijmpkhklbs3s3p6bdaqext3xr

Cycle 3. Paul to Caesarea: Acts 23:12-351tgcbmd4kpqa0bw3pmyu57p9i82afrik

Danger: plot to assassinate Paul (Acts 23:12-15)0ht2q7kplhakdey10obw1oofyvz3noko

Whoxsiamvghk2b1r8h10wpndiiq01ovn9wb wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u Paul? How did his nephew get this info? We have no idea of the real answers to those questions.l6607kd1e0gcbwqvxvpfmkrsjqcaz841

Protection: Paul protected—journey to Caesarea (Acts 23:16-35)67oulyl60mubf9n41odxlyxo4o48ua98

Again, the Romans are both jailers AND protectors. 70 horsmen, 200 troops. No speech from Paul this time.khznz46qnrqcmbv0gkhv0mx34dpm1kle

Cycle 4. Paul before Felix: Acts 24:1-27533a565uo7ln5fr3fiyj2uhdte08g9z0

Danger: false accusations (Acts 24:1-9)s0gwbkg4wo1gw14x9rq3kgrgolye949c

Typical lawyerese here by Turtullus. But none of it is legit.bf8d44tso1hftiqi15xhmo5rkuzhkdt1

(Protection: Paul protected—Roman legal system) This is Luke’s context. The Roman legal system again provides protection for Paul.jt8tiqg19xg7zyl3dfsz72vnxs68ohmg

Testimony: Paul’s Felix defense (Acts 24:10-27)8sbndowdrj1s2sgeuyc1kg80sppfqobv

A straight up denial should have been sufficient BUT for…the breaking point…hykhl9u74h8t8suciau8u4i7a97zp71d

Breaking point1r4cwguw8xfiwf1lohep7rkslo623k1dpjvwd75j2q5mxmfpr07cqalbeed9j9hz9haevrxg8mtqo9sqy061dieqdvkk5p32kmb80rtst4mvb32llxaf4aohjber4s52: Felix’s corruption & conviction of sin for Felix. Drusila wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u his third wife andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o she’d left her husbandoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o to be with him…so Paul speaking of sin, righteousness andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o judgment to come wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u uncomfortable for the couple. Paul never backed down, did he?

Cycle 5. Paul before Festus/Agripa: Acts 25:1-26:32a4bjgo0mnb5ja64jmnr0441y2spvkm7u

Danger: Jewish machinations (Acts 25:1-9)rp02rf80917a2kem3lvg40g6vjm90roe

Rinse, repeat from chapter 24, but with a naïve or malicious Festus, depending on your cynicism.o5r2p9q9443yjovb7zjpx8ebl7kzomwa

Protection: Paul protected—Roman legal customs (Acts 25:10-12)a14qe40j43ab434n6bqsxc5t0iq7env0

Paul had escaped assassination once, had no need or desire to go back to Jerusalem, the lions’ den, so to speak.lgp5mje8cy4e52krca2ga767dcsbqxhm

Testimony: Paul’s Agrippa defense (Acts 25:13-26:32)u4s81scltqqz4tt0mmbkvpyaydywlffh

Here Paul makes a brilliant appeal to a decent man. This is maybe Paul’s greatest sermon in this section.yywifhh937qvnuuuxnpoe956nb66xh8c

Breaking point1r4cwguw8xfiwf1lohep7rkslo623k1dpjvwd75j2q5mxmfpr07cqalbeed9j9hz9haevrxg8mtqo9sqy061dieqdvkk5p32kmb80rtst4mvb32llxaf4aohjber4s52: resurrection & a call to believe. A pagan like Festus had no framework for resurrection even to make sense, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o Agrippa, between the Roman andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o Jewish world had too much to lose.

Cycle 6. Paul to Rome: Acts 27:1-28:31nfo7kvt0ew6uxgyl3ku8xhpksc6a6yw3

Danger: Storm at sea (Acts 27:1-321)zprb9gbdlmd9630fdlujjvbi7btl90qw

There has been so much exploration andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o investigation of this voyage.

Protection: Paul protected—safety in shipwreck (Acts 27:33-28:15)mwxeymwdv1ujjg1q8iwmd35izi5atyp5

God’s promise, Paul’s certainty. God is keeping his promise to Paul.48g2y22ti7eiz7rxglkjnxvoqv5up030

Testimony: Paul’s Jewish defense (Acts 28:16-31)hdcrcwu5go74i53eiuzfr1cunsfyyyo7

A call to the Scriptures. Paul’s challenge is the Scripture andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o yet…his people hesitate. That’s the Breaking point1r4cwguw8xfiwf1lohep7rkslo623k1dpjvwd75j2q5mxmfpr07cqalbeed9j9hz9haevrxg8mtqo9sqy061dieqdvkk5p32kmb80rtst4mvb32llxaf4aohjber4s52: they are a stiff-necked people described in the Scriptures themselves.vz28enlcld4a338qls0vx8f71zhez1xv

Whoxsiamvghk2b1r8h10wpndiiq01ovn9wb’s in control?

  • The God of0yrhktqrrl3eqt79houttyeyrb2y3yyyn11kxuj3r5dqtmur35i6zfuy30vo36tyhwr8mtwcwxw44wyrga9cgjmwpvsq9721 history63tisgot39tu5umjdu0wv0s5bk7k24l7. These things really happened. These were real people, breathing oxygen like you are today. I could take up oodles of time showing photos andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o telling stories about the characters in these stories, but I don’t have time. I would do this not to convince you of the Bible’s trustworthiness, but to remind you that while we can see these stories from the vantage point of 2000 years, the people in them could not. Paul had only the faintest of ideas how his story would end while he wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u getting pummeled in the Temple courts. What did his nephew risk to warn of the plot against him? The men aboard that ship had to take a landoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3olubber’s word from God that they would survive. Acts 21-28 is an account of real people, real decisions to trust God in real time. That should be comforting to us.
  • The God of0yrhktqrrl3eqt79houttyeyrb2y3yyyn11kxuj3r5dqtmur35i6zfuy30vo36tyhwr8mtwcwxw44wyrga9cgjmwpvsq9721 irony3msvy1rg5neqonfbx5nuq3vhhkvuzi2p. The Roman Empire wasuperj8xvqwp6u66y1ezsql31vsjq3l9u only interested, by andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o large, in maintaining its power andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o subduing opposition. And yet God used the values andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o norms of the Empire to preserve His messenger, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o carry Him into high places with the Gospel. God is the very best at using human power andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o strength arrayed in opposition to Him…to achieve His own ends. (Psalm 2 is a celebration of this.)
  • The God of0yrhktqrrl3eqt79houttyeyrb2y3yyyn11kxuj3r5dqtmur35i6zfuy30vo36tyhwr8mtwcwxw44wyrga9cgjmwpvsq9721 victoryxmuque6ufdqckijdlnyy873q9gyd0xo3. How does the book end? “28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o without hindrance.” Acts ends basically saying that God is building His church, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the gates of hell will not prevail. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. God wins!

Maybe some of us are astute cultural readers andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o see things as pretty grim. And, yeah, maybe they are. But we are not serving a God who will be stymied by America’s cultural lunacy. You are a witness to the Gospel of God here in UP, in Lakewood, Tacoma, wherever you study or work or play. We have been blessed to do that in Puebla, Mexico.  I have a sister who leaves with her family in less than a month to serve in Niger, where in January, they burned down churches across that country.  But God has promised that our labor will not be in vain, whatever our danger, we can be sure of protection andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o be bold with our testimony. He is in control. After the church burning in Niger, my brother-in-law sent an email from a colleague relating the courage of pastors andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o believers who continue to witness, who continue to see people there come to Christ. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. This is true there, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o this is true here. God is building his church, andoft5yfayy4g5n9iz110vetueg2l7ve3o the gates of hell will not prevail against His work. Keep building with Him here as we do in Puebla.

(original) View Español translation

This is a sermon I was privileged to share with Sunset Bible Church. I’m going to try to resurrect things here, and one thing will be to post sermons. This may (or may not) be more active down in Mexico where every sermon in our church is new :). I was privileged to finish the sermon series on Acts that the pastors were preaching, so the sermon covers Acts 21-28. A big chunk, to be sure, but we can learn from Scripture in large portions as well as in small. (It doesn’t lose the property of inspiration when you read lots of it!) 

Spoiler alert: If you’re from FBUP, don’t read this until AFTER July 5th!

We live in a world that feels increasingly out of control. Some example you might pick  are Islam and Islamic terrorism, especially with Isis wreaking havoc in the Middle East. Or, there’s economic uncertainty around the world, in Europe, Japan, and (always) in the US. Russia is playing at war in eastern Europe, China is looming in the west.  For those of us who are conservative Christians we see the rise of gay marriage and trans-gender issues. To make it all worse … the specter of a presidential election is on the horizon.

And I don’t even know what your life is like right now. You may be sitting here with a family crisis, or work stress or something that I can never know. Life is something we do not control. Today as we finish the book of Acts, we will see the same thing. A man caught in a world out of his control. Yet…he remains on mission. Paul does not stop proclaiming the Gospel. So I invite you to let go of the illusion of control in your life for a few minutes and concentrate your attention on Acts 21-28.

As you turn to Acts 21, I want to set the idea for this section of Scripture.

What’s going on? Three ideas

The purpose of Luke-Acts:

  • “…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”Luke 1:3-4 (All Scripture here is from the ESV)
  • “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God…. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:1-3; 8

Luke is writing so his readers are both informed and confirmed in their faith. Christianity more than any other religion is based on historical facts and those point us to faith in a Savior who lived, was crucified and rose. Information is important to our faith. Yet confirmation, the grounding of lives lived out in that information is equally important. So Acts is that information AND confirmation of our mission as believers in Jesus Christ.

Roman Apology (defense): Explanation of the faith for curious Romans.

Luke consistently portrays Roman authority and the agents of the Empire in a positive light. He’s not a suckup, the authorities in his portrayal, have foibles, but he notes their fairness, noble qualities, and, especially, a lack of official condemnation of Christians or Christianity.  On the other hand, he portrays Paul, his main character, as a law-abiding Roman citizen who respects and even helps the Roman authorities in their duties.  I mention this because it is especially important as we look at the end of Acts, which is almost entirely composed of Paul’s interactions with the Roman Imperial authorities.

The Gospel Advances.

And in light of these interactions, the overriding idea of his book is that the Gospel witness advances and goes forth even in the most daunting of circumstances. What to us looks like a semi-tragedy, Paul’s arrest, imprisonment, and deportation to Rome, in no way stops the advancement of Paul’s Gospel witness. Maybe you’ve read all the warnings Paul received going to Jerusalem, and like every great story, no matter how many times you read it or watch it, when you get to that point you want to say, “No! Don’t go there! Don’t do that!” But Paul does, every time, and every time…he goes to jail.

But in that is our key point: God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. In fact, I would perhaps argue that the whole of Acts 21-28 is simply Luke’s demonstration of Jesus statement in Matthew’s Gospel: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)God is building His church and there is no power on earth or in the heavenlies that can stop Him. And THAT is what we need to go home with today. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it.

As missionaries in Mexico, we continually are asked about security and safety, which is fine (I’m tempted to take a lot more credit than I should for being in a dangerous place: “Yeah, it’s really dangerous there!”). The reality is that your perception of the dangers in Mexico doesn’t necessarily match reality. But I think back 12.5 years, when our oldest son was only 1 week old, and at a Christmas party a co-worker’s wife insisted that we could never take him there because it was too dangerous. In that conversation, I had to learn to communicate the idea that the best, the safest place for us to be is where God sends us.

There are no exceptions to that. We as Americans live in a society that is built upon the illusion of control. We think with just a few more regulations or precautions or laws or police or health care workers or money we can prevent tragedies or even hardships in life. That’s a lie. We have so little control over our lives. Let me be very personal. YOU have so very little control over your life. Acts 21-28 stands as a challenge to us control-freak American Christians: more important than control and safety in my life is the fact that God is spreading forth His Gospel no matter what the circumstances, what the challenges, what the laws and obstacles. He is in control and His Gospel will go forth. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” How does Acts 21-28 show this?

6 Cycles of Danger-Protection-Testimony

As I read through Acts 21-28, I see 6 cycles of danger-protection-testimony, as Paul runs into a very real threat (Danger), sometimes to his very life, but then is protected (Protection), usually by agents of the Roman Empire, and then uses the circumstances to give testimony to the Gospel (Testimony).  Time will certainly not allow us to examine any of these in detail, but let me just tell you what they are, and then make a couple observations…

Cycle 1. Paul in the Temple: Acts 21:16-22:22

Danger: Riot at the Temple (Acts 21:27-31a)

The Jews think Paul brought a Gentile into the “Jew Only” section of the Temple, a capital offence.  “It’s just a simple misunderstanding” See what happens when you make assumptions!

Protection: Paul protected—arrest at Temple (Acts 21:31b-40)

The irony is that the Romans a) arrest the innocent guy and b) in so doing save his life.

Testimony: Paul’s Temple defense (Acts 22:1-22)

In 5 out of these 6 cycles, Paul shares the Gospel, usually in the form of his own story. Every time there’s a breaking point at which Paul’s audience objects to what Paul says and breaks off his talk. Here, the Breaking Point is Paul’s commission to the Gentile. His hearers seem to accept his testimony, a light and voice from heaven. They seem even to deal with Jesus as Lord. But the idea of Paul being sent to the Gentiles? That’s going too far now!

Cycle 2. Paul before the Sanhedrin: Acts 22:22-23:10

Danger: Riot at the Temple (Acts 22:22-23)

The people riot all over again…but…

Protection: Paul protected—interrogated in the barracks (Acts 22:24-29)

Here’s irony again: Paul’s Roman citizenship saves him from the Romans…Roman due process was pretty solid, if you were a Roman citizen.

Testimony: Paul’s Sanhedrin defense (Acts 22:30-23:10)

Ananias was a genuine bad guy and this resurrection debate among first-century Jews is well-documented. Paul spoke the truth but also exploited known divisions in the Sanhedrin.

Breaking point: the concept of the resurrection is too much for the Sadducees and the Pharisees to agree on.

** Paul protected: God’s promise (Acts 23:11) **

“Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  This little interlude gives the game plan for the rest of the book.

Cycle 3. Paul to Caesarea: Acts 23:12-35

Danger: plot to assassinate Paul (Acts 23:12-15)

Who was Paul? How did his nephew get this info? We have no idea of the real answers to those questions.

Protection: Paul protected—journey to Caesarea (Acts 23:16-35)

Again, the Romans are both jailers AND protectors. 70 horsmen, 200 troops. No speech from Paul this time.

Cycle 4. Paul before Felix: Acts 24:1-27

Danger: false accusations (Acts 24:1-9)

Typical lawyerese here by Turtullus. But none of it is legit.

(Protection: Paul protected—Roman legal system) This is Luke’s context. The Roman legal system again provides protection for Paul.

Testimony: Paul’s Felix defense (Acts 24:10-27)

A straight up denial should have been sufficient BUT for…the breaking point…

Breaking point: Felix’s corruption & conviction of sin for Felix. Drusila was his third wife and she’d left her husband to be with him…so Paul speaking of sin, righteousness and judgment to come was uncomfortable for the couple. Paul never backed down, did he?

Cycle 5. Paul before Festus/Agripa: Acts 25:1-26:32

Danger: Jewish machinations (Acts 25:1-9)

Rinse, repeat from chapter 24, but with a naïve or malicious Festus, depending on your cynicism.

Protection: Paul protected—Roman legal customs (Acts 25:10-12)

Paul had escaped assassination once, had no need or desire to go back to Jerusalem, the lions’ den, so to speak.

Testimony: Paul’s Agrippa defense (Acts 25:13-26:32)

Here Paul makes a brilliant appeal to a decent man. This is maybe Paul’s greatest sermon in this section.

Breaking point: resurrection & a call to believe. A pagan like Festus had no framework for resurrection even to make sense, and Agrippa, between the Roman and Jewish world had too much to lose.

Cycle 6. Paul to Rome: Acts 27:1-28:31

Danger: Storm at sea (Acts 27:1-321)

There has been so much exploration and investigation of this voyage.

Protection: Paul protected—safety in shipwreck (Acts 27:33-28:15)

God’s promise, Paul’s certainty. God is keeping his promise to Paul.

Testimony: Paul’s Jewish defense (Acts 28:16-31)

A call to the Scriptures. Paul’s challenge is the Scripture and yet…his people hesitate. That’s the Breaking point: they are a stiff-necked people described in the Scriptures themselves.

Who’s in control?

  • The God of history. These things really happened. These were real people, breathing oxygen like you are today. I could take up oodles of time showing photos and telling stories about the characters in these stories, but I don’t have time. I would do this not to convince you of the Bible’s trustworthiness, but to remind you that while we can see these stories from the vantage point of 2000 years, the people in them could not. Paul had only the faintest of ideas how his story would end while he was getting pummeled in the Temple courts. What did his nephew risk to warn of the plot against him? The men aboard that ship had to take a landlubber’s word from God that they would survive. Acts 21-28 is an account of real people, real decisions to trust God in real time. That should be comforting to us.
  • The God of irony. The Roman Empire was only interested, by and large, in maintaining its power and subduing opposition. And yet God used the values and norms of the Empire to preserve His messenger, and carry Him into high places with the Gospel. God is the very best at using human power and strength arrayed in opposition to Him…to achieve His own ends. (Psalm 2 is a celebration of this.)
  • The God of victory. How does the book end? “28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Acts ends basically saying that God is building His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. God wins!

Maybe some of us are astute cultural readers and see things as pretty grim. And, yeah, maybe they are. But we are not serving a God who will be stymied by America’s cultural lunacy. You are a witness to the Gospel of God here in UP, in Lakewood, Tacoma, wherever you study or work or play. We have been blessed to do that in Puebla, Mexico.  I have a sister who leaves with her family in less than a month to serve in Niger, where in January, they burned down churches across that country.  But God has promised that our labor will not be in vain, whatever our danger, we can be sure of protection and be bold with our testimony. He is in control. After the church burning in Niger, my brother-in-law sent an email from a colleague relating the courage of pastors and believers who continue to witness, who continue to see people there come to Christ. God will advance His Gospel, no matter the hardships arrayed against it. This is true there, and this is true here. God is building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against His work. Keep building with Him here as we do in Puebla.


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